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Food security for future thought

At the Tallberg Forum, Sweden, I heard two women farmers from Ghana lament, “The food we produce we do not eat, the food we eat we do not produce.” Would India’s farmers sing a different sorrow?

According to the latest FAO report, the number of hungry people worldwide increased from 848 million in 2005 to 1 billion in 2008. The spreading hunger is weakening food security. Evidently, the world food system is unable to ensure food, which is adequate and safe, to sustain human life. Is India any exception?

If nothing else, over the years we have kept up with the world food system in making it more and more complex but less and less useful to feed the hungry. Simple questions remain unanswered. Safe and nutritious food is promoted as a fundamental right and yet our people remain hungry.

Why do those who produce and process food, farmers and farm workers, most of them women, do not have enough food to eat? Why do food exporting regions report starvation? Returns on global food markets have become increasingly attractive but why do the farm labourers remain the lowest paid and work under worst conditions? Food has today become a mere commodity.

But, food is much more. Food has a sense of locality, home, sthana in India. Food is many-layered in its use and satisfaction. Food is our link from cosmos to livelihood to ritual to myth. It is our life’s culture. Food is our history and our future. Food has many meanings to us. But food security is the language of the state today.

Can food be reduced to business and trade opportunity? Is it not the result of failed political economy, the other of failed morality? Our civilisation started with agriculture and today agriculture is under threat. What about our civilisation?

We have to protect ways of life and livelihoods of the farming communities from the threat of extinction. We must protect the base of agriculture, small farmers, their produce and their locality of farming. Security stems from local innovations, not distant imports.

To build food security, we must understand that security needs autonomy that grants diversity which stems from locality. Autonomy, diversity and locality are the fundamentals of our food security.

Producer & consumer must come closer

To achieve the above, we must reduce the distance, economic and ecological, between food producer and consumer. Here I wish to suggest my 100 Mile Principle that stems from ecology of food that I mentioned at Tallberg Forum.

I urged all to think of using essential foods and food-related services that are produced within 100 miles around us. I explained that the 100 Mile Principle weaves decentralisation, locality, size and scale with livelihood of agriculture. What we need for livelihood as material, as energy, as knowledge should stem from areas around us.

We can start with our own food first. Seed, soil and water are forms of knowledge developed over generations that need to be retained locally. So are the uses, storage, processes, recipes and packaging of food. Let us experiment with the 100 Mile Principle with our daily staple food in 2009.

It cuts economic and ecological cost on food. Essentially, the organic human link between ecology and economy has to be restored. The millennia old link between producer and consumer has to be recovered. Ultimately, ecology as cosmology or economy as market is the weave of life. Let us start weaving it tighter from 2009.

Credit: Ela R Bhatt

Source: The Economic Times

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